At the Last
Peter Coviello, Professor of English, University of Illinois Chicago
Sarah Ensor, Assistant Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison
This seminar is animated by our shared interest in lastness across historical periods and cultural contexts: in collapse and terminality, lateness and belatedness, endstrickenness in a range of expressions. Our aim is to consider closely the turbulence, the grief, and also the possibility condensed in the experience of dwelling (to borrow a resonant phrase from Sarah Orne Jewett) “at the last” – at the tail end of life, as the last member of a species or family line or ecosystem, amidst the many disparate endings of the world.
Among the questions that seem to us salient: What do nineteenth-century approaches to extinction, apocalypse, and terminality reveal about what is entailed in living (loving, desiring, teaching, learning, resisting, acting, imagining) in times of ending? How might reckoning with specific historical forms of lastness offer alternate terms in which to consider the many differently-scaled “ends” – of the ecosystem, of the English major, of even nominal democracy – that saturate our discourses today? How can a reckoning with lastness reorient our thinking about anachronism and obsolescence – including the residual possibilities of presumptively defunct or outdated forms? And how might the approaches to temporality and untimeliness that flourish across queer, trans, Indigenous, Black, disability, Ethnic, anticolonial, and environmental studies shape our understanding of the risks and affordances of belatedness? What relations between these discourses, from the complimentary to the provincializing, emerge from their encounter in the context of ends? What does work in these fields teach us about the paradigms of solidarity, practices of living, and forms of action that can emerge “at the last”?
To “last,” in other words, is for us also a verb: a paradigm of persistence that can help direct our attention away from, or at least askance to, the scripts of futurity that often capture scholarly and activist attention. We will hope to consider the errant, unlikely, and greatly varied forms lasting takes in the nineteenth century – as a temporality, as a practice, as a mode of being and communing – and what they might offer for imagination, struggle, and solidarity in the present.
DeLisa Hawkes, Assistant Professor of English and Africana Studies, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Katie Walkiewicz, Assistant Professor of English, UC San Diego
Afrofuturism (a term coined by Mark Dery), Indigenous futurism (a term coined by Grace Dillon), and Black and Indigenous speculative fiction have popularized a future-oriented ethic in literature and culture that has proven much-needed in a contemporary world that, for many, feels dire and apocalyptic. While these genres do not shy away from historical and structural violence, environmental degradation, genocide, or familial trauma, they do insist on Black and Indigenous futurity and a world beyond settler-racial capitalism made possible through Black, Afro-Native, and Indigenous creativity, ingenuity, and joy.
Black-Indigenous futurism is not new. Much nineteenth-century Indigenous, Black, and Afro-Native writing and artistic expression, including oration, features futuristic orientations. While enslavement, colonization, segregation, allotment, and other oppressive regimes all attempted to control, limit, or even foreclose Black-Indigenous futurity, Black, Afro-Native, and Indigenous people fought for their future ancestors. To put it simply, we are here because they dreamed of and for us.
This seminar invites participants whose work centers texts committed to Black, Afro-Native, or Indigenous futures that either (1) reflects on long-C19 figures (2) engages examples of contemporary literature, comics, film, television, etc. that revisit the nineteenth century through a futurist or speculative lens. We understand “nineteenth-century America” less as a geographic and temporal marker and more as describing a set of structures and relations resulting in global ramifications on human and more-than-human life. (For example, we know that U.S. settler policies like allotment and segregation inspired other colonial regimes around the world to implement similar policies.) In this spirit, we welcome scholars working in Pasifika Studies, Caribbean Studies, Latin American Studies, and Africana Studies, in addition to Turtle Island (the U.S. and Canada).
We envision this seminar as an opportunity to build an intellectual support network for the growing community of scholars committed to working at the intersection of Black-Indigenous Studies. As such, we hope our seminar conversations will lead to additional collaborations and discussion. If you are unable to attend the 2024 conference but are interested in participating in future conversations, feel free to email (email@example.com and (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let us know.
Sari Altschuler, Associate Professor of English, Northeastern University
Priscilla Wald, Professor of English, Duke University
The covid-19 pandemic drew a great deal of new scholarly attention to questions of health and healthcare. What had seemed like a topic only of interest to a subset of scholars became self-evidently relevant to us all, touching almost every aspect of our lives, and, in turn, many scholars were spurred to think, or to think differently and more carefully, about the relationship between health and almost every topic from the environment to law to economics to politics to religion to colonialism and more. We come to this topic through our understanding of health as a broad concept encompassing all aspects of mental and physical wellbeing and as a fundamental entitlement, including adequate shelter, food, and access to primary health care as well as the respect and dignity necessary for the fullest realization of potential. The past three years have made clear to a much broader swath of people what we already knew: the profound inequities in the US and worldwide affect populations disproportionately.
In this seminar we seek work that does one of two things—or both. First, we seek work that examines new directions research about health in the nineteenth-century United States has taken. Second, we seek work that takes stock of how shifting conversations about health have spurred reevaluations of other areas of scholarship in the nineteenth century. How does centering health push us to reconsider questions including, for example, the human, the environment, ecology, subjectivity, citizenship, regionalism, race, racism, class, gender, disability, and sexuality? How might we think about health in a range of ways: as a description of proper functioning, as an intimate term we use to understand our minds and bodies, as a wide-ranging cultural imperative, as a moral judgment, as a word used to describe a set of professions, as a fundamental human right, as a lens through which to see the structural violence that underpins our society, and as a central element of all life. We welcome submissions from a broad range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches as well as theories, genres, and media.
How to Apply for Library Research Fellowships
Paul Erickson, Director, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
Susan Juster, Director of Research, The Huntington Library
For many scholars of nineteenth-century American literature, the successful completion of dissertations, articles, and books requires access to library and archival collections at a distance from one’s home institution. Completing this research requires funding. So how can you increase your chances of writing a successful fellowship application?
This seminar recognizes the proposal for research fellowships as a prose genre that scholars are often expected to know how to write, despite never having received any training in how to do so. It is a genre with its own conventions and strategies, and one to which experienced readers of applications bring a specific set of expectations. Participants will be asked to submit a draft application—proposal, bibliography, and CV—for a library research fellowship to which they plan to apply in the coming year. Since fellowship applications are read by interdisciplinary selection committees, we welcome participants from a wide range of disciplinary and methodological backgrounds. Particular attention will be given to providing suggestions for how scholars of American literature can write proposals whose stakes and significance can easily be understood by readers from other disciplines, and for how to effectively make the case that your work will benefit from access to a given institution’s collections.
Insecurity and Catastrophe
Anna Brickhouse, Professor of English, University of Virginia
Russ Castronovo, Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison
From earthquakes to revolts, extreme forms of upheaval are routinely seen as manageable events that can be tamed through prediction, planning, and preparation. Too often, though, our understandings of cataclysm and vulnerability are surrendered entirely to policy analysis and empiricism in ways that sideline aesthetic considerations. Today, we see this sensibility reflected in FEMA, the federal agency that is charged with the “management” of “emergency.” In the nineteenth century, the state of emergency could flare up anywhere and for any reason: from the sudden shifts of terra non firma that disrupted geological space to the long-simmering instabilities created by slavery and settler colonialism, once solid social foundations began to seem shaky. The paradox is that catastrophe and insecurity became the ground—the foundation—of political and social organization in the Americas. In this context, literature and art, like natural philosophy and science, were obsessed with asking impossible questions: how do people plan for the unforeseeable? how do data and knowledge simultaneously enable and disable thinking about threat and danger? how does insecurity spur fantasies of injury? At what point does the desire for security become a form of catastrophe? What can our attention to the nineteenth-century aesthetics teach us about the felt dimensions of both insecurity and catastrophe? Who defines the parameters of security and catastrophe, and how might these twinned concepts complicate the perceived geographies and timeframes of C19 American literature? Can the imagining of insecurity and catastrophe in nineteenth-century literature help us to better understand current phenomena such as “climate delusion” (as distinct from denialism) and “derangement,” and to see relations between these phenomena and the longstanding non-recognition of slavery and settler colonialism as the major catastrophes of modernity?
These questions invite critical thinking that is informed by studies of affect, environmental humanities, Black and Indigenous studies, science and technology studies, and biopolitics. This is not an exhaustive list: this seminar invites approaches that work with and across these questions, or that introduces new questions through attention to literary, historical, philosophical, political, or ecological formulations insecurity and catastrophe. We hope to create a working space in which participants can test out new ideas and/or use the help of a group to advance current projects.
The Latinx and Asian American Nineteenth Century
Marissa K. López, Professor of English, UCLA
Julia H. Lee, Professor of Asian American Studies, UC Irvine
In keeping with the location of the 2024 C19 conference, this seminar asks us to consider the role of the American West in Latinx and Asian American literary and cultural production of the nineteenth century. We are particularly interested in scholarship that considers Latinx and Asian American relations in the period, as well as in work that addresses how each field categorizes “early” texts. Our primary goal, however, is to bring together Asian Americanist and Latinx studies scholars for a frank and wide-ranging discussion of what the nineteenth century means for both fields; comparative work not required! As the conference theme focuses on “endings” in their myriad forms, this seminar invites participants who are interested in interrogating the notion of the nineteenth century as a “beginning” or “early” period in these respective literary traditions. We welcome approaches from a variety of frameworks, including but certainly not limited to comparative, transnational, diasporic, or settler colonial.
Monica Huerta, Assistant Professor of English and American Studies, Princeton University
Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Professor of English and Gender and Women’s Studies, Pomona College
This seminar invites developing projects with unpredicted relationships to nineteenth-century archives, understood in the broadest sense. Instead of being organized by a topic, set of questions, theme, or method, this seminar gathers authors who understand their projects as misfit projects joined by a non-singular mood: We welcome weird projects with a deep sense of purpose just as much as whimsical critical postures. “Misfit projects” might be driven forward by a set of “ill-fits” among the subfields with which they are in conversation. Projects might work with archives thought to be marginal or unvoiceable given current disciplinary or interdisciplinary concerns. Projects might also play with form, voice, tone, and/or modes of engagement in ways that are integral to their critical work. As a group, we’ll discuss the ethics of interloping, especially modes of and practices for honoring citation ecologies and engaging with critical genealogies, centering the intellectualism of humility in any wild experiments and intellectual risks.
Psychoanalysis and the Nineteenth Century
Brian Connolly, Associate Professor of History, University of South Florida
Natasha Hurley, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Memorial University of Newfoundland
In “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Hortense Spillers writes, toward the end of her reading of Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl, “these ‘threads cable-strong’ of an incestuous, interracial genealogy uncover slavery in the United States as one of the richest displays of the psychoanalytic dimensions of culture before the science of European psychoanalysis takes hold.” This framing not only encourages psychoanalytic reading but also suggests that the 19th century United States, and in particular the familial and kinship economies of the plantation, offer historical evidence of what have come to be commonplace scenes in psychoanalytic theory.
This seminar will explore the asymmetric conjunction of the nineteenth-century United States and psychoanalytic theory. Following from Spillers’ provocative claim, as much a critique of as a building on of psychoanalysis, so many forms of modernity that were the objects of analysis find bearings in the 19th century US. We invite participants to think through what is at stake in reading the 19th century psychoanalytically, reading psychoanalysis through the archive of the 19thcentury, and what the contemporary resurgence of psychoanalysis might mean for nineteenth-century studies. Some questions we might think through in concert with one another:
What might it mean to reframe the political economy of the 19th century as also an intergenerational libidinal economy?
How might the history of sexuality, still in many ways subject to a Foucauldian inertia, be rethought via psychoanalysis?
How might key psychoanalytic concepts – repression, the unconscious, castration, lack, fetishism, etc., be reconceptualized via scenes of the 19th century US?
Is there still purchase, or new purchase, in engaging in older psychohistorical questions – is the 19th century, for example, marked by anality?
How might 19th century concepts of inner life (phantasy, desire, repression, displacement, dream life) enrich or interrupt the ways such concepts unfold in the “science of European psychoanalysis” that emerges later?
To what extent do psychoanalytic methods facilitate trans/historical readings of texts/performances/cultural objects across already intersecting categories of gender, race, sexuality, and class?
While these questions might provide some coordinates for the seminar, the questions we will entertain are not limited to them.
Race and Age: Black Childhood in the Nineteenth Century
Crystal Lynn Webster, Associate Professor of History, University of British Columbia
Nazera Sadiq Wright, Associate Professor of English and African American and Africana Studies, University of Kentucky
The field of Black childhood and Black girlhood studies is a vibrant area of scholarship that focuses on the experiences, history, and cultural productions of Black children and girls. It seeks to challenge dominant narratives and provide a deeper understanding of the unique ways in which race, gender, and age impact Black children and also how this interplay shapes American literature, culture, and history. This interdisciplinary field draws on insights from critical race theory, feminist theory, postcolonial theory, children’s literature, and childhood studies to examine the historical and contemporary contexts in which Black children and girls navigate their identities, social structures, and cultural practices.
As scholars including Robin Bernstein, Anna Mae Duane, Nazera Sadiq Wright and others have indicated, the nineteenth century is a particularly significant period for the field. What does the nineteenth century tell us about Black childhood, and what do Black children tell us about the nineteenth century? How does this work reconfigure nineteenth century studies? What tropes can we identify in literature on black childhood? Where do these tropes originate?
This seminar seeks papers that address these questions either through new research or approaches that speak to the power and impact of Black childhood in the nineteenth century. The seminar will bring together scholars to delve into the multifaceted dimensions of Black children’s history, literature, and culture in the nineteenth century, as well as the most exciting developments in the growing field of Black Childhood and Girlhood Studies. It will examine early examples of writing on Black childhood by Black men and women writers and in sources that are rarely studied or have not been analyzed before through this lens.
Themes include representations of Black childhood in early African American print and visual sources from the nineteenth to early twentieth centuries—a period of time that covers the early decades of the new republic to the eve of the New Negro Renaissance. During this era, Black writers drew upon Black children as tools to advance their social and political agendas. Often these agendas touched upon national issues of concern to the Black community, such as safety and survival, strategies for achieving full citizenship rights, the abolition of slavery, work in the post–Civil War industrialized North, and education for the next generation. Just as often, writers relied upon Black children, and especially Black girls as emblems of home and family. Whatever platform they chose for their writing, the Black children they wrote about often carried stories of warning and hope, concern and optimism, struggles and success.
Jean Lee Cole, Professor Emerita of English, Loyola University Maryland
Sarah H. Salter, Associate Professor of English, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
Jim Casey, Assistant Professor of African American Studies, History, and English, Penn State
Editing is everywhere and nowhere in the nineteenth century. Consider the countless forgotten editors of the party, penny, reform, flash, story, amateur, wartime, illustrated, and yellow presses. That’s not to mention foundational figures such as Frederick Douglass, Lydia Maria Child, Pauline Hopkins, John Rollin Ridge, or José Martí. Why did they choose to dedicate so many years of their lives to the craft of editing? This seminar invites work on the cultures, communities, and genealogies of editorship in the nineteenth-century Americas.
This seminar seeks to explore editorship on its own terms. Editing is not merely a prelude to a writing career nor the sunset pursuit of the once powerful. Sometimes editors are easy to recognize as gatekeepers, as esteemed patrons, or as co-laborers in textual revision. Yet there is no singular editorial function. Editors collect, curate, arrange, redact, rewrite, reprint, juxtapose, conspire, and circulate. In any of its practices, the craft of editing entails aesthetic, imaginative, political, and social dimensions. Editing requires making interpretive and expressive choices even and especially when that labor is invisible. This seminar aims to draw from the critical mass of print culture scholarship in Black, Indigenous, and Latinx studies to explore the role of editing in creating transnational infrastructures of print, politics, and circulating forms of social life.
The seminar will provide a collective space for building critical methods for unfolding the unmapped histories of editorship in the long nineteenth century. We invite submissions that explore how editorship practices of the nineteenth century–whether theoretical, aesthetic, or socio-technical–might inform the practice and study of editorship today. Submissions could also offer accounts of editorship as a collective cultural arena of meaning-making in a specific historical context, a personal or collaborative editorial mission statement, or delineate computational/digital approaches to the study of editorship.